A Publication of WTVP

It’s hard to be the marketing director for an agency some people love to criticize.

It sounds a little blunt, I know, but it’s a fact. I love asking people, “What is Peoria Housing Authority?” The answers I often hear are “housing for the poor,” “low-income housing” or “something to do with HUD.” You never hear people say that Peoria Housing Authority promotes self-sufficiency for families who are struggling to make ends meet. You never hear someone say—unless you’re at my dining room table—that PHA works every day to chip away the age-old problem of poverty by promoting education, hard work and self-confidence to people who typically grew up without those lessons in their households.

So why don’t we hear people respond with these things? Is it because they are making assumptions? Maybe they are, but that would be awfully presumptuous of us.

Maybe PHA should look in the mirror and ask if we have bothered to tell people anything different. Up to this point, I don’t think we have told our stories in the way our residents deserve.

Telling Our Stories
Well, the time is now! Peoria Housing Authority is embarking on its first-ever public image campaign in 2012 and telling the public, “We are so much more than you think we are.” We will tell our stories through interviews, radio spots, TV ads, magazines and Facebook, and on our own website. It is time to fight the image that our families are “living free off the government,” or that they are “lazy and don’t want to work.”

I’ve always found it interesting that the people who make those kinds of comments have usually never even met one of our residents. This marketing campaign is unique because it’s not like marketing a product or a brand. We are marketing real people who live and work in this great city of Peoria. They are citizens just like all of you reading this article, but they’re often clumped together as one group and referred to as people who “live in the projects.”

Peoria Housing Authority and our residents are tired of hearing it. We are taking a stand to say that kind of thinking is unacceptable. We are telling our stories to give the public a glimpse of what it’s like to have an address inside Harrison or Taft Homes. We are telling the public, just as we tell our residents, that your address does not determine who you are or who you can become.

Our families will share their struggles, their triumphs and their goals. Our staff will share their stories from decades of working in public housing. PHA will tell you about our family self-sufficiency programs, elderly/disabled programs, GED program, and our Access to Resource and Referral Opportunities program. We will tell you that we took children who had never been to Glen Oak Park fishing last summer. We took even more children to Lakeview Museum for the first time. In fact, most of them had never even been past University and McClure. Four of our residents attended a Community Leadership Institute course with PHA staff and developed a community action plan to clean up their neighborhoods that will roll out this spring with our marketing campaign. These are things that make us at PHA what we really are. Our families work hard to live through the curveballs of life, with more barriers than most people will ever face, and still they survive—because they are so much more than you think they are.

Starting the Campaign
Marketing people is not an easy job. You can’t change the public’s values and beliefs that have been years in the making. So our strategy is this—we will tell the truth. We are going to share our successes and failures and give you all the information we can. Then it’s up to you to decide.

In order to develop this campaign, we started with a public image survey, and what we found is that most people don’t know much about us at all. On a 1-5 scale, we have a lot of threes. That could be a good thing, because it means a large chunk of the business population that completed the survey don’t know enough about us yet.

We then put together a committee of PHA staff and marketing professionals in our community. Together, we discussed what we believe the current image of PHA and our residents is now. Then we talked about what it should be and decided the path was very simple…tell people the truth. They don’t know what they don’t know. If we don’t tell people our stories, they can’t possibly have a different opinion of us.

The marketing starts where most things do these days—online. We will interview some well-known people in the community that grew up in public housing. Then we will move to current residents, staff and other community members. Our goal is 52 interviews, one for each week of 2012. Sometime in March or April, we will begin the TV and radio campaigns. They have a similar concept to the interviews and will come in three phases…first residents, then staff, and then a mix of both. The message remains the same: “We are PHA and we are so much more than you think we are.”

Peoria Housing Authority owes much gratitude to our Board of Commissioners, our community partners and our volunteer marketing committee. Marketing at PHA is really everyone’s job, and we have to take it upon ourselves to share the good things we do. Hopefully, this campaign will be the proof some people need to see us as more than low-income housing.

Look for us in 2012 and join our efforts! Tell people what you know about Peoria Housing Authority. Tell us what you want to know that we aren’t telling you. And no matter what—believe that we are so much more than you think we are. iBi

Meghan Lundeen is director of business development and marketing at the Peoria Housing Authority.